Scientists raise red flag over Char Dham highway project

| | New Delhi
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Scientists raise red flag over Char Dham highway project

Friday, 25 October 2019 | Archana Jyoti | New Delhi

Earth scientists from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee have raised a red flag over the Modi Government’s Rs 12,000- crore pet project Char Dham Mahamarg Vikas Pari Yojana (Char Dham Highway Development Project) that aims to connect the four pilgrimage in the Uttarakhand’s fragile mountainous eco-system.

In their study published in the latest issue of Current Science, the scientists said that the 900-kilometer long all-weather road project which envisages widening of National Highway-58, is being executed in complete violation of environmental norms with several irregularities.

Adoption of unscientific methods, inappropriate dumping of tones of mud and debris, excavation at steep angles,  allowing wrongful collection of water percolated from the slope to the roadsides were some of them.  The project is already drawing flak from environmentalists, NGOs like Citizen for Green Doon and locals who too have alleged serious violation of green norms as well as rampant cutting of hills making the area prone to landslides. 

T Siddique and SP Pradhan from the Department of Earth Sciences, IIT, Roorkee too echoed similar views warning that inadequately performed excavation without proper consideration of eco sensitive terrain may lead to catastrophic events as witnessed during the Kedarnath disaster in 2013.

Launched by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2016, the Char Dham Mahamarg Vikas Pari Yojana (Char Dham Highway Development Project) is being executed by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH). It aims to connect four holy towns in Uttarakhand —Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri. 

The scientists came to know about the violations after evaluating various stretches along NH-58, from Rishikesh to Devprayag and took exception that in order to complete the project, the scientific studies/reports which ought to be given topmost priority were being ignored. Observing that the excavated materials, including massive rock blocks, soil and debris have been dumped in hairpin bends along the road, the report cautioned that “these dumps are interrupting the natural channel of many ephemeral streams and may give rise to an alarming situation in subsequent monsoon seasons. Besides ephemeral streams, the major perennial stream, including river Ganga may witness such critical issues. Such adverse practices are unendurable and violation of rules and regulations of the river ecosystem needs to be assessed.”

Similar activities in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand will cause siltation problem in major hydroelectric projects, it said.   According to the scientists, no preventive and stabilization measures were undertaken after excavation. However, in a few road-cut sections, gabion walls have been constructed for stabilization; but these walls are deformed due to inadequate stabilization measures and maintenance.

The scientists also expressed concern at authorities ignoring scientific norms in handling percolation of water which was allowed to be collected in a roadside ditch. “Such careless practices are continuously hampering and endangering the health of slopes and may give rise to large-scale landslides,” said the scientists as they called for its proper channelization to avoid the build-up of pore pressure.

The report has recommended setting up a panel comprising of locals and experts to monitor the project for  sustainable development in the region.

To attain safer design during pre- and post-construction stages, efforts should be undertaken for better prediction of extreme rainfall events and accordingly planning needs to be done, said the report adding that the real-time monitoring of slope movements should be done along highly vulnerable and risk sections.

Also, in rockfall-prone sections, rock shed may be designed to overcome accidents and frequent blockage of the highway and implementing preventive measures like steel mesh to retain potential falling blocks along with flexible barriers to reduce kinetic energy of these blocks.

Earth scientist Pradeep Srivastava, from Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology has called the project “unsustainable”. “Such projects won’t work in these mountains because the roads are built on “fragile rocks” and “subsided landslides,” he said.

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